Around 15 years ago, my wife Karen and I were invited to our friends’ beautiful home for a pre-dinner glass of wine. It was going very well until I saw the food we’d be “enjoying” with our wine: raw oysters on the half shell. Growing up in a family with 12 children, my love of fish extended about as far as the tuna noodle casserole we were regularly served. I didn’t want to be rude to our hosts, though, so I figured the worst that could happen would be a covert removal of the offending shellfish into a napkin. After all, my childhood trained me to eat foods I couldn’t tolerate (tuna noodle casserole), and I was an expert on how to secret away food by hiding it in a potato skin or feeding it to the dog.
So…good manners prevailed and I popped one of those suckers into my mouth, all while reassuring myself, “You can do this.” The shocking result? I liked it. And tried another one, and one after that. And so my oyster journey began…
About seven years later, our great friends/next-door neighbors put their house up for sale. Although I was sad they were abandoning us for a home far away (about a mile down the road) I prayed for suitable replacement neighbors. That prayer was answered…I think.
I made the mistake of telling my new neighbor about my love of oysters. When I picked him up for an event at UB days later, he had fresh oysters for the car ride. (Is it me, or is my new friend a little crazy?)
I’ll call him Tom Sawyer for this column, and with good reason.
If he had a picket fence, I’d probably have painted it for him after he convinced me how much fun it would be. Here’s the real story: somehow Tom Sawyer did convince me that he would let me have a party at my house, and that it would involve serving many oysters. Boy, did I get sucked in. Eight years ago we had our first “Ponderoysterfest,” and I’m almost positive he named the party (a combination of our street’s name and the honored delicacy). In the early days, we had around 80-90 guests, which grew in recent years to 200 guests and 800 oysters. (Disclaimer: Sometimes I let my little Yorkie sneak over to their home to poop on their lawn.)
After seven wonderful years, the party outgrew our neighborhood, so in 2017 we hosted the party on the fifth floor terrace of the Buffalo News building, overlooking Canalside. We enjoy trying different types of oysters, and fresh-from-the-sea is key. In the past we’ve flown in Kumamoto oysters from Washington State; Mama Mia oysters from Price Edward Island, Ninigrets from Rhode Island (which I first tried and enjoyed at Sea Bar); Montauk Pearls from Long Island and Beau Soleil oysters from New Brunswick.
Recently I learned about an oyster farm on Prince Edward Island with what I’ve been told offer the best in the region: Colville Bay oysters. After several attempts to contact the owner, Johnny Flynn, he called me at home one evening to tell me he didn’t ship to the states. Instead, he invited us there last fall to try them at the seafood festival – stay tuned for more on Colville Bay in a future column.
Of course, wine plays into this oyster scenario, and there is much debate about what wine goes best with the shellfish. I will admit that I serve what’s conventionally suggested (namely, whites) — but also what I like. Here they are:
2016 Chateau Puech Haut Rosé Prestige
France, around $20
This is the real deal French Rosé. I bought a case for the party and it was gone in a blink of the eye. I normally don’t buy or drink much pink wine (too many flashbacks to the days of Sutter Home), but I loved the crisp and light summer fruit that came from my glass. This wine is available locally and if you can, buy a case.
2016 Trisaetum Rosé of Pinot Noir
Oregon, under $30 (if you can find it locally)
Six years ago we visited this winery for its Pinot Noir. They were excellent, but we also fell in love with their Riesling. Recently, they began offering a Rosé, and my wife requested we try it. It went great with the oysters: delicious summer fruits with a lot of complexity.
2011 and 2015 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir
I’ve been drinking Pinot Noirs for more than 20 years, and this is one of my favorites from California. These Pinots age well and have won favor in many tastings I’ve hosted. (Also great from California: Kosta Browne, Kistler and Calera – the latter which is available locally.)
2007 Ascent Cabernet
California, around $50
With more than a case of this wine in my cellar, I thought it would be fun to offer guests a 10-year-old Cabernet. It was gone pretty quickly — in fact, I never got a sip. There is something special about a mature, evolved Cabernet.
2016 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley, around $25 and available locally
A very nice wine to taste with oysters, or by itself on a warm summer day. Not too sweet and not too tart, it tasted of light citrus and floral, and guests seemed to enjoy it.
2014 Rasa Occam’s Razor Red Blend
Washington State, $16
Most of this winery’s bottles are in the $50-90 range, but Rasa recently released this more affordable red blend. Normally I don’t drink wine until it has laid quietly in my cellar for several weeks, but we tried this one right away; my wife and I took one sip and decided we wanted more. It featured wonderful dark berries, chocolate, coffee and more. As a selection at the party, it vanished almost immediately.
There were several other offerings that I didn’t taste but were well-liked by the crowd: 2015 Picpoul De Pinet, around $15; 2015 Sancerre Karine Lauverjat, $22.
Now I’m just wondering what Tom Sawyer has planned for the 9th Ponderoysterfest…
Warren T. Colville is publisher and president of The Buffalo News.